Can we really believe that eating organic, shopping ethical and separating our trash makes the world a better place? This video made me think no, not really.
It made me reflect on the purpose and meaning of why I (and all the lovely people at my local bio market) do what we do.
We choose to put an extra effort into the way we live because our consumer (or non-consumer) choices are an expression of our identity, aspirations and values. Sadly, it does not mean that they have the power to change the way in which industry, companies and societies act. Given the strong, emotionally appealing and empowering messages around individual actions, it is not an easy truth to accept. After all, we have been told that choosing biodegradable sneakers is making a world a better place! The truth is probably more like wearing those sneakers allows us to live our values, feel more empathetic to the environment and therefore live a tiny bit happier and more fulfilling life.
However, climate change, social injustice and environmental destruction is unlikely to be stopped by upper- middle-class Westerners separating their waste and shopping ethically. We need strongly defined and effectively enforced national and international norms. We can and should lobby our decision-makers for action, and make our voices heard. This may require us to go and form communities, work with movements and make some noise, as opposed to defining our actions in terms of consumption and non-consumption. I was quite encouraged by the EU finally looking at ways to encourage/enforce sustainable, sweatshop-free clothing supply chains. This will make a much bigger approach than my wow to not shop or wear second-hand items, which at the same time make me happier than the knowledge that an exploited person made my clothes. But it remains often so easy to confuse the difference between working to live our values/become better people and acting for systemic change.
How can we be convinced to do new stuff if we are scared to screw up?
The premise of all motivational literature is that humans can be influenced to change their ways and take action by the promise of gains and improvements in the near or distant future. This wouldn’t explain though why anyone would still keep smoking or voting far-right parties. Experiments have found that we are much more influenced by our fear of loss. A bit counter-intuitive, but the amount of unhappiness that we feel when, say, getting a salary reduction of 100€ is much much bigger than the happiness generated by a raise of the same amount. “Loss” includes that of material goods (our country’s social security will be depleted by the damn immigrants!), but also that of social resources such as approval from others, security and social standing – basically, that no one will want to hang with us any more. The problem is, being motivated by fear of loss makes us stressed, overall fucking miserable, and unable to implement change. The sweet spot for improvement is apparently a mix of a lot of positive feelings and inspiration about the future self that we want, with just enough negative stress to get us to buckle up and do the work. However, because our strong response to loss, this balance usually hangs much more to the negative side.
So, what can we do to shake things up for ourselves and for others? There are two ways to influence this balance of positive and negative. One way is reinforcing the positive side (of which we will talk in a later blog), and one is trying to reduce the negative side- making us less afraid of loss and screwing up.
In the case of fear of failure, there is a wonderful initiative that I wanted to tell you about. It is called FuckUp Nights, and you should go see if there is one near you ASAP! It’s a series of of Ted-style talks by people on their biggest failures. Speakers tell stories of failing at business, seeing movements they believed in collapse and messing up so badly at their jobs that they got fired. Look at the lineup of the event that I am going to tomorrow:
“- Philip Hellemans, skydiving teacher. Philip will talk about the ultimate skydiving failure: ‘losing’ a student in the air. This happened to him once. A student got separated and didn’t think to open his main parachute himself. His life was saved by the automatic opener, but still he landed hard and displaced his vertebra.
– Justine Harcourt de Tourville, American communication specialist. Six years ago she fell in love with a charming restaurant in Antwerp and bitten by the entrepreneurial virus, she decided to buy it, unaware of the skeletons that were about to fall out of the closet. She will share the story and lessons discovering all kinds of deadly business problems and having to let go of a dear dream.
– Roxane Kaempf, interactive experience & mobile consultant at IBM. After finishing her master thesis on sustainable tourism initiatives, Roxane decided to turn her research into a start-up. Together with her co-founders, they achieved funding and were invited to travel to cities all over Europe. But delays, communication problems and – most importantly – a lack of income led to them shutting down the website. Roxanne will talk about what went wrong and what could have perhaps prevented the business from going downhill.”
Not your average rosy TedX world, is it? The speakers share the facts, the aftermath of the fuckup and what they learned from it. I love that the talks do not even conform to the glossy self-help cliché where you only hear of failures once the person has established a supersuccesful new venture, thus presenting success as a necessary precondition to ‘fessing up about the struggle. Speakers are really candid about all that comes with messing up. The audience asks questions, in a super relaxed and empathetic atmosphere, which by itself is enough to give me a little warm and fuzzy feeling inside!
The awesome thing about the concept is that it lets us normalise failure and talk about it in terms that reduce the fear of it, thus acting on the negative side of that balance that I was talking about above. Going to a couple of these has already helped me to be open about my own fuckups with others (hello, community yoga class I organised where ZERO participants turned up). It might also inspire you to :
Host your own Fuckup Night! The world needs more of these. Or just go to one that is organised nearby.
Try to be more open about failures, struggles and mistakes in your own life, be it a project in sports, self-improvement or your work. The way you phrase things is of course important, but in 99% of the cases, I have found people (even clients!) to be much more understanding, supportive and appreciative of the honesty than I would have given them credit for.
Engage with others when they open up about their fuckup. Share the love.
Do you have other tricks that help reducing your fear of loss?
(disclaimer: I am definitely not paid by FuckUpnights to promote their events, which are also free to attend)
How come I can get SO BORED with my clothes? There are tons of people campaigning for wearing the same outfit always (or for a year), without any obvious damage to their wellbeing. Not only people who work jobs requiring uniforms, but also fashionistas, like the Uniform Project, people limiting themselves to six items, XOJane writers and some fellow bloggers that I just discovered recently.
So how can we avoid the boredom with our wardrobe, whether it is a capsule or a crammed walk-in closet? One of the most inspiring and perspective-changing things I have ever encountered is this short list from Be More With Less. I was feeling in a fashion rut despite a wardrobe where I could only hang new clothes if I wrestled the hangers to one side. So I thought, yay for some tips! Instead the list read as follows:
Create a playlist with silly 80’s dance tunes … and dance.
It was such a shock to my system- what a brilliant change of perspective!
You see, she says whenever you feel bored with your wardrobe (capsule or otherwise), you’d better take a step back and consider what is it that you are REALLY bored with? You know how you rarely get bored with your clothes while on holidays, spending time with people you love, organising an exciting project or running from a pack of hungry wolves? That is because you have exciting and interesting things going on. If you are lucky, you are even pursuing something you are passionate about. So if you feel bored with your clothes, doing something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT but interesting will likely scratch that itch. In my experience, it will likely scratch it much better than spending three hours scrolling through ankle boots on Amazon – trust me, I tried both!
The great thing about, erm, life, is that you don’t have to go wingsuit diving as soon as you get an urge to shop the latest sales. There are a ton of ways in which you can get out of your comfort zone without directly endangering your life or having to drop major $. The tips above can be grouped in five clusters, with some more suggestions):
Step Zero: Become conscious about why you feel bored– just reflect a bit on whether your closet really is the problem.
Step One: Pick your adventure!
Go shopping! Nah, I am kidding.
Get active – you can also try an online yoga class, like the ones by the mind-blowingly amazing Adriene, or something entirely weird and wonderfully outside your comfort zone, like a P90X or Zumba video.
Do something good for others – You can look for volunteer opportunities online or in your local community. You local volunteer centers or international platforms like Serve The City have approachable and easy-to-join volunteering opportunities. You can also just bake cookies for your office to take to work the next day.
Connect with loved ones – drop a line to friends, get some photos printed and send them to your friends and family…it’s the fuzzy feeling on the inside that counts, not the fuzzy feeling of a new cashmere sweater on the outside!
Learn and develop yourself: enrol in a Coursera, even if you only watch a few of the lectures; follow an ambitious cooking video; or google how to unclog a toilet (I had to do that myself, and won’t judge you if you call a plumber instead). I especially loved the idea of starting a challenge, such as ditching sugar or learning to meditate. Or, you know, wearing the same dress for a year!
This post from The Yoga Lunchbox NZ looks at what are the conditions that help set apart the practising of yoga for self-realisation, and that of doing it for something else (strength, flexibility, sponsorships, awesome pants). This is no clickbait so I give away the solution: it is 1) a container (daily practice) and 2) a teacher.
Why are these two elements of container and teacher crucial to create a yoga practice?
Because real work of yoga arises not in the physical achievement of the postures, but in the understand of the Self through observation of our relationship to the postures.
I read this book while struggling with some difficult stuff personally, and it touched me a lot. This is a memoir about the journey of the author to yoga, and what her practice mean to her. What really speaks to me is that she talks about struggling with postures and philosophy, and not only in the terms of overcoming them- some struggles are bound to stay. The book also balances asanas with meaning focuses on everything that is beyond the asanas, and how the pursue of yoga can help you become a better person.
Although not strictly a yoga book, I find this one really relevant for personal development for everyone dealing with others. That includes most yogis! Being more empathetic is also one of the values you may want to develop through your yoga practice.
This is a book about the power of empathy to change ourselves as people, but also our societies. It tells you about fascinating psychology/sociology research, great stories, and even has a list of 6 things that you can do to grow that side of your personality.
If you’re short on time, the author gave a talk at a Google campus which you can watch below.
OK so this is a book about Bikram- actually one of the books that unleashed the shitstorm that has been going on for a while now. It is also an absorbing deep dive into the world of Bikram, from the stories of individuals to the wider community around him, the whole cult of personality and the culture of competitive asana championship. It looks at all the abuse and conflict that people close to their guru have experienced, but also how the practice itself seems to work for so many. Counter-intuitively, reading this actually MADE me go to a class to see what it is about! More predictably, it made me feel very uncomfortable about giving money to anything connected to that guy. But I did actually quite like the sessions, and luckily my local “Bikram” studio has left the franchise and re-branded themselves a few weeks after my first visit. Hooray!
This is one of the most thought-provoking articles I have read in a while. So much of the talk and thinking around yoga concentrates on self-actualisation and individual progress. Much less attention is paid to the ways in which this eternally positive discourse about yoga is inserted in the wider community and how it can contribute to or even hinder social progress. I would love to hear what yoga teachers think about this! The text has several hyperlinks, all worth clicking.
After a year of slowly increasing attention on how I live, and about 3 months of really cranking it up with the minimalism, there are a few things that I find really hard. Here is a short list, feel free to add your own!
1 Shopping ban
The first step of the ban was of course accepting that I have a problem. It’s not even that I was spending too much money- though I was -, but more my inability to not shop, along with the astonishing amount of time, self-identification, thinking and life that went into browsing and choosing things. I have also started marathon training (yay!), which brings out a fierce Amazon, no wait an Amazon addict in me. Thanks to “training shopping” in past years, I am the proud owner of a handheld water bottle I never use, a rain jacket that is not really waterproof, an ill-fitting sports bra and a pair of teal Nike leggings that show crotch sweat to an extent that I had never thought possible.
I wanted to see what it feels like to pull the plug on all of this bullshit, and haven’t bought anything in 8 weeks now, hooray! But here ‘s the catch: not shopping is HAAAAARD, you guys.
It feels super empowering to know that I am not not channelling all sorts of anxieties straight to H&M. I really enjoy opening my closet and only seeing 33 items. I have done so many things on weekends instead of browsing shops! But it is also spring and new seasons are linked in my brain with “refreshing my wardrobe”. I also miss having the illusion of a pick-me-up when I feel tired and stressed.
2 Capsule wardrobe
As a capsule newbie, I made some bad decisions when constructing it. Welcome to my life, jeans that I somehow never wore before (spoiler: there was a reason. There is always a reason!).
3 No plastic
This is our challenge for April- objective zero plastic packaging. It is a fun way of raising our awareness of the impact of small daily actions, and maybe also a way to eat healthier (though Nutella comes in a package that contains wonderfully little plastic).
Here are the catches so far, from a week of #noplastic:
You still end up generating waste, only now there is a lot more glass waste as you have to buy things like milk, yoghurt and canned tomatoes in bottles.
It is expensive! The only place where you can buy bulk grains and pulses around here is the hippest biological supermarket, where you end up dropping a ridiculous amount of cash for Belgian quinoa. This makes this whole noplastic thing feel very elitist.
I just had to give up consuming some foods as lactose-free dairy products all come in plastic, and so do vegetal milks.
Cats eat meat, and that means noplastic cat food requires one to work chicken legs and lamb kidneys in one’s blender.
Have you ever tried any of these challenges? What do you struggle with? And what are your solutions? Quick, I need solutions!
The awesome Joshua Becker has posted this list on Becoming Minimalist a long time ago, but I discovered it last week, and it has had me thinking ever since.
His point is that too often we pass judgement on the achievements of others based on a wrong set of values. Measurements such as income, physical possessions (and I would add, enviable around-the world backpacking trips and Twitter followers). But those indicators may not be relevant to what life really is about. In a quick test, you can ask people, how they define a good life next time you are at a dinner party. I have to admit, owning a matching set of Smeg household appliances rarely makes the list, no matter how deep a twinge of longing I feel every time I am near one of those foxy little things.
Thus, in judging others and ourselves, we often get sidetracked by forgetting about the original goal. This is not unique to our personal lives, but it something that I see a lot in my work with NGOs as well. I think, humans may just be really rubbish at keeping invisible and long-term objectives in mind. In the case of not-for-profits, even though an organisation may be striving to, say, combat malaria in a developing country, they often find themselves discussing Facebook likes and media appearances (or, even worse, internal tussles) a big chunk of their time, often without making the link with their ultimate goal – less malaria.
So, if we aim to live the Good Life, who is it that we should envy, and look to as examples? I copied the entirety of Joshua’s list below because it is so beautifully written and inspirational.
1. Character in solitude. Our character is best revealed not in the the public eye, but in private. What we do when nobody is looking is the truest mark of our character. And those who display character in the dark will always reflect it in the light.
2. Contentment in circumstance. Often times, contentment remains elusive for both the rich and the poor. It is a struggle for humanity no matter their lot in life. Rich is the man or woman who can find contentment in either circumstance.
3. Courage during adversity. Courage can only be revealed when it is required. And only those who have displayed it and acted upon it during adversity can lay claim to its possession. This adversity can take on many different forms, but courage will always look the same: action in the face of fear.
4. Faithfulness in commitment. Those whose words are true ought to be highly lifted up in our world today. Whether our word is given with a handshake, a contract, or a wedding ring, those who hold true to their oaths are worthy of commendation.
5. Generosity in abundance. To those who have received much, much should be given away. Often times, this abundance comes in forms other than material possessions. And in that way, we each have been given much… and each ought to be generous in our use of it.
6. Graciousness towards others. Those who routinely extend grace to others are among my greatest heroes. They have a healthy realization that this world is largely unfair, that people come from a variety of backgrounds, and that nobody is truly self-made… even themselves. As a result, they are quick to extend grace and mercy to others.
7. Gratitude despite circumstance. Those who can find enough good in any circumstance to express gratitude are typically focused on the right things. And those who are focused on the right things tend to bend their lives towards those things… and draw others along with them.
8. Honesty in deprivation. It is when we are deprived of something desired that honesty is the most difficult. Whether we are deprived of something physical or intangible (like a desired outcome), dishonesty is often used to quickly take gain of something. Those who show honesty during deprivation reveal how highly they esteem it.
9. Hope during heartache. When heartache cuts at such a deep level that simple optimism is not enough… only hope can emerge. When it does, it is undeniably from a source far greater than ourselves. And those who find it, discover one of the greatest powers in the universe.
10. Humility in accomplishment. Those who are quick to deflect praise in accomplishment ought to be first in receiving it.
11. Inspiration in relationship. We are all in relationship with others – sometimes in person, sometimes in print, sometimes in other ways. These relationships should not be used solely for personal gain but for bringing out the best in others. And those who inspire others to become the best they can be should be gifted with more and more and more relationships.
12. Integrity in the details. Integrity is found in the details. Those who show integrity in the little things of life will typically display it in the bigger things as well.
13. Kindness to the weak. It is usually the weakest among us that are in most need of our kindness… and yet they receive it the least because they have no way to immediately repay it. When kindness is only shown for the sake of repayment, it becomes an investment and is no longer true kindness. Our true measure of kindness is shown in how we treat those who will never repay us.
14. Love for enemies. Anybody can love a friend. Anybody can love those who treat us well… and everybody does. But it takes a special type of person to extend love towards those who treat us unjustly.
15. Optimism towards others. See the good in everyone. There is simply no way to bring out the best in others if you haven’t seen it first.
16. Perseverance in failure. Failure reveals much about our heart. It reveals our character, our humility, and our perseverance. We will all at some point face failure. And those who get back up and try again ought to be esteemed in our mind.
17. Purity in opportunity. While character is revealed in solitude and integrity is revealed in the details, purity is revealed in the face of opportunity. When dishonest gain (money, power, sex, etc.) presents itself, those who choose purity ought to be praised. Not only do they personally sleep better at night, but they make this world a better place for all of us.
18.Respect for authority. Authority brings order to a world of disorder. Certainly there are numerous examples throughout history (and today) of proper timing in overthrowing authority that oppresses its subjects. But in most cases, authority brings reason and order… and it should be allowed to do so.
19. Responsibility for mistake. From the weakest to the strongest, we all love to pass the blame. I can see it in my 5-year old daughter and I can see it in my government leaders. We are a people that are slow to accept responsibility for our mistakes. This is unfortunate. Because only those who can admit their mistakes have the opportunity to learn from them.
20. Self-control in addiction. We are a people that too often give control of our most precious asset to another. We fall under the influence of substances, possessions, or entertainment. When we do, our life is no longer our own. And those who retain self-control in the face of addiction ought to be recognized as unique and judged accordingly.
Reflecting on how we ourselves are doing on these values can be such an important tool in self-discovery. I have come up with a self-assessment tool based on the Wheel of Life. You can print it out and use it in a meditation session (or while having breakfast/ waiting for the bus, whatever works for you!) to assess where you are on each of the twenty characteristics. It is also a fun colouring for adults exercise.
Keep in mind, there is no objective “maximum”to any of these values- it is just based on how far you think you could go, and how far you have come. It can also be interesting to ask someone who knows you really well, to give you some feedback on your scores. If you choose to do this, be ready to make yourself rather vulnerable in front of the feedback person. At the same time, you are very likely to hear some unexpected praise.
Once you have your wheel, I suggest you do the following:
See where is your strong point. Is this a key value in your life? How has this value helped you become who you are today? How do you exercise and nourish this side of yourself? Were you aware of this aspect of your personality before?
Now look at the segments with a lower score. Where is it that do you have some way to go? Any surprises here? How do you think building up these values could help you in your journey? Find some examples where you have used this value before, and see how you could build on those experiences to make this a more visible aspect of your life.
How do you define success in others? And yourself?
I kinda suck at all of the sports I practice. Despite all the effort and enthusiasm, I am a 5+ hour marathoner prone to training weight gain, a rock climber who is still struggling on the easier pitches, and that girl in your yoga class who can still not straighten her legs in Downward Dog. Then again, running, yoga and climbing have been such awesome sources of inspiration, growth and fun over the years, that they have become part of who I am.
At first sight, one would think that sports are about: challenging yourself and having a great time. Physical activity makes you feel good. We have the Holy Trinity of evidence on this: academic papers, common sense wisdom, and bad stock photography.
By the time we get serious about exercising, it also becomes part of our identity and therefore something that we use to validate ourselves. Working out makes us feel good. But it also arouses feelings of insecurity, inadequacy and overall unpleasant shite. There are so many ways to fail at self-discipline, constant progress and all-round measuring up to everyone else.
Self-worth, measuring and comparing
Am I really good enough if I run the next race slower than my first ever? What if I skip the gym? How on earth do all Instagram yogis have their headstand and Teeki leggings collection all figured out? I have thought about these questions a lot while struggling with comparisons and self-worth and think that social media fitspo and fitness trackers are two of the main tools that backfire when I am trying to build up an exercise routine that comes from a happy place.
In running, my experience is that it becomes about obsessive time tracking very easily. Technology really bit us in the ass there. Measuring our progress can be helpful in training. But from my job evaluating programs for NGOs, I also know that you will work towards what you are measured on. Humans are incredibly biased towards judgement and measurement. This means that even if you start using Runkeeper with the most positive attitude possible, you will likely get lost in the data and focus on improving your numbers. In psychological terms, your intrinsic motivation shifts towards extrinsic motivation This, if you are an NGO or an average runner, will put you at risk of enjoying your activity less, buying way more gear than you need because of your insecurity, and of losing sight of why you started working out in the first place.
That feeling of yuck and self-pity mixed with not being good enough? Being anxious about improving yourself and comparing yourself with others, who seem to be doing so much better? It is normal. We even have specific research on fitspo, which links it to increased feeling of insecurity and self-worth (albeit accompanied by an increased willingness to work out in some cases).
The solution? As the Buddha would say, Let that shit go. Here are some ways I managed to get rid of bad feelings when it comes to sports:
Ask some questions
Reflection is always a good place to start. Think of an occasion where you really enjoyed your workout, and ask yourself what was the reason behind this? It is rarely the data as you often don’t see it until afterwards; and I bet it was not looking damn hot while being in a difficult yoga pose, crushing a Crossfit workout or spinning.
2. Ditch the trackers
I remember feeling like a workout did not matter if it wasn’t in my tracking app, and being quite harsh on myself if I had not improved compared to previous occasions. Let’s face it, if you aren’t a pro athlete, the ultimate goal of your exercise should probably be something else than competing on time. Switching to a routine without a tracker or leaving it at home at least half the time will help you avoid depending on external validation and tune more into how you feel.
3. Diversify your social media feeds and inspiration
There is no one way to do awesome stuff. If you struggle with feeling inadequate, it can be very helpful to widen your inspiration sources to include a rainbow of role models. Social media is full of them! Following campaigns such as This Girl Can and body positive activists like Dianne Bondy can help you focus again on what the essence of your chosen sport is.
Any other suggestions for a happy and balanced exercise routine?